Books: Michael Fitzpatrick recalls Maeve Binchy

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How It’s New York: Maeve Binchy (May 28, 1940- July 30, 2012) was a beloved figure in New York: “I get a lot of energy in New York,” she said. She would stay at the Fitzpatrick Hotel, and many people here loved her.
How It’s Irish: Maeve was an Irish writer whose books were set in Ireland, and indeed can be said to have defined a kind of Irish writing.
Following the recent passing of best-selling Irish author Maeve Binchy, we’re including an interview conducted with the late writer by Michael Fitzpatrick, first published in The Irish Examiner some years ago, prior to the release of ‘How About You’, a film based on one of her books. 
This interview was originally published in Irish Examiner USA, November 12, 2008.

Mike Fitzpatrick interviews best-selling author Maeve Binchy, prior to the US release of ‘How About You’, the Anthony Byrne-directed, Noel Pearson-produced, film version of her short story, “The Hard Core.”
Maeve Binchy is excited. A world-renowned best-selling storyteller she may be, but the Dublin-born writer of such hit novels as Circle of Friends, Tara Road and The Lilac Bus(all made into movies), still retains the youthful vigor and enthusiasm of a first time author, as she awaits the American release of How About You.
Directed by Dublin filmmaker Anthony Byrne (Short Order), and produced by Noel Pearson (My Left Foot, The Field, Dancing at Lughnasa), How About You, perhaps best described as a dramatic comedy (or comedic drama?), was adapted from Binchy’s short story The Hard Core, by screenwriter Jean Pasley.
Featuring superb performances from such respected actresses as Academy Award-winners Vanessa Redgrave (Oscar-winner for her supporting role in 1977’s Julia, and a five-time nominee) and Brenda Fricker (Best Supporting Actress for My Left Foot), Irish actress Orla Brady (Nip/Tuck, Proof), veteran English stars Joss Ackland (Lethal Weapon 2, The Hunt for Red Octobe’, Surviving Picasso) and Imelda Staunton (nominated for an Oscar for her lead role in Vera Drake), and rising young star Hayley Atwell (Cassandra’s Dream, Brideshead Revisited), How About You is a charming Irish film, cleverly adapted from the original story.
The Irish Examiner chatted with Maeve Binchy just prior to the film’s US release.
Mike Fitzpatrick (MF): How About You is an adaptation of your short story, The Hard Core what can you tell us about it?
Maeve Binchy (MB): The story is about a whole lot of people at a retirement hotel. It’s not exactly a nursing home, it’s a retirement hotel. They’re all very set in their ways, and four of them are really bad tempered, and driving everybody else mad. So, what happens, is, over one Christmas, the manageress has to go away, and her much younger, and much more irresponsible sister takes over. And what she ends up doing is giving them all a wake-up call, and losing her temper with them and frightening the wits out of them, and they all become much nicer people. As a result of this, they’re forced to look at themselves through the eyes of somebody else.

MF: So, you’ve seen the film, how did you feel about the big screen version of your story?
MB: I was absolutely delighted when I saw the movie, because it’s got such a wonderful cast! Vanessa Redgrave is wonderful. She plays Georgia, the old bitch, who’s very cold and dismissive to everyone else! Then there are two sisters, played by Imelda Staunton and Brenda Fricker, and they’re such a comedy act, they’re so good.
There’s a retired drunken judge played by a very fine English actor, called Joss Ackland. I’d seen him in a lot of historical things, and on television and in the cinema, lots of times, and he’s perfect for the part. Then there’s a pretty little girl, who plays the younger sister who takes over, Hayley Atwell, she’s very bright. She’s in Woody Allen’s new film, and featured in Brideshead Revisited, and she’s very good, and she plays the part of a real hare-brained ‘I-don’t-care-about-these-people-let’s-tell-them-the-truth’ (character), and yet she’s kind at the same time, and she’s determined that they’re going to enjoy Christmas. So it’s not a film that will send people out depressed!

MF: There’s certainly a feel-good quality to the movie.
MB: Well, I know, because I’ve been around a long time, that there are an awful lot of beautiful, married rich women, who are as miserable as sin, so happiness is nothing to do with money or beautiful things, or clothes or anything like that. So I think about old people and how they make their lives more cheerful.

I was traveling in a taxi in Dublin recently, and I said to the taxi-man: “Are you going to go to my movie?”, and he said, “Ah sure, it’s about an oul’ people’s home, full of oul’ ones!” So I said, yes, it is full of oul’ ones, but it’s great fun! So I told him to send me a postcard if he liked it, and he did, and he said he loved it, but he thought it was going to be about old ones, and he didn’t want to depress himself. But you see, there’s old ones, and old ones, so I hope people will like it, I think they will.

MF: When you wrote the story originally, did you feel that it had the makings of a film about it?
MB: No, I didn’t, I never know what’s going to make a film. The only thing I can say in favor of myself is that I don’t try to do anything that I don’t know anything about. I’ll never try to get a job as an executive producer or a screenwriter, because I don’t know how to do that. I have to wait for other people to choose them for me. I would have thought some of my books (for example), Evening Class, about a whole lot of people going to do Italian lessons. I thought that’d have made a lovely movie, but nobody’s ever made that into a movie, yet, Circle of Friends, Tara Road, The Lilac Bus and Echoes have all been.
MF: You had a cameo role in Tara Road, didn’t you?
MB: I did have a cameo in Tara Road! I was playing the very difficult part of someone sitting at the bar having a drink! You can imagine how much rehearsing I had to do for that, and how hard it was!
It was very good fun. I was going to have a part in this one too, but unfortunately, I wasn’t well. When they were filming I wasn’t able to be there, I was supposed to be, again, a customer in a bar. Maybe it’s all for the best that I wasn’t able to do it, as I might have been typecast!
MF: What do you think Imelda Staunton and Brenda Fricker brought to their roles as the spinster sisters?
MB: Well, they actually looked like sisters, and (in one scene) they held on to each other, it was like they needed each other, you’d swear they’d known each other all their lives.
I couldn’t believe they were only acting, I almost thought they were sisters by the time it was over. They’re both terrific actors, and Vanessa was very good too. She’s the most beautiful face. Vanessa is seventy in real life, and she doesn’t look fifty.
MF: Do you still get excited about the whole movie process, or are you nervous that the film people might change your story and adapt it to fit their own agendas?
MB: Well I was nervous when it was shown in Ireland. When it opened (in Dublin), I was nervous that it wouldn’t do well and that people wouldn’t like it, but it did do well, and people liked it. But, you’re more nervous about your own, and about Ireland.
If my health was better, I’d go over to America. I’m a great celebrator of things. Unfortunately, I’ve been in poor health the past few years, so they don’t let me fly now. I’d normally be thinking, you know, I’ll go (to New York) and stay in Fitzpatrick’s Hotel, and we’ll have a party, and see all our friends. I almost had everything organized until I remembered I can’t travel now! I’ll just have to let all of you do it for me instead!
MF: So you’ve happy memories of New York?
MB: Oh very much so. I’ve been in New York dozens and dozens of times, I love New York. I mean, I’m not at all an energetic or a fit person, but I get a lot of energy in New York. I don’t (normally go for long walks) at all, I’ve never walked much but I get great energy there, and everyone seems to be purposeful and busy and going somewhere there. I love that, I love the feeling of it. I’d love to be there!
I’ve been going to New York since I was nineteen, normally I’d go about twice a year.
I always think that I might have worked there and been able to enjoy it. I have lots of good friends in New York, not just in the publishing business, but all over, and I really do enjoy that.
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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts